Shopping with a sense of history

A weekend visit to the Swindon designer outlet centre or whatever it is we are calling it, has prompted me to write a view lines about it. Cos I think it’s really rather cool – and I don’t only mean for the shopping. 

In its incarnation as The Works, I featured the Outlet Centre in Swindon in 50 Buildings. And there’s a photograph of it in Secret Swindon.

Swindon designer outlet centre
Swindon Outlet Centre


Occupying the restored Great Western Railway Works near Swindon town centre, this is a covered McArthur Glen designer outlet. It’s located a few miles from J16 of the M4 motorway.

There’s a steam locomotive on display in the eating area – currently (Feb 2020 – Ditcheat Manor).

Note too that the Outlet Centre is not far at all from Swindon’s Railway Village Conservation area – voted England’s favourite in 2018. If you leave the centre at the food court entrance and head for the Workers’ Tunnel the Railway Village is straight ahead of you as you exit the tunnel. The GWR Park is close by too.

Atmospheric Shopping

Which, as descriptions go, is fine. But it doesn’t, it can’t, convey the atmosphere of the place. 

I love that the Swindon one has taken the home of a once glorious, but now long-gone industry, and breathed new life into it by becoming the home of a 21st century industry: retail.  

Instead of a slow disintegration followed by demolishment, the workshops of the Great Western Railway* are recycled, revitalised and regenerated.   And in a way that has retained the character of the workshops. Always the original industrial use of the buildings is clear. Whenever I stroll around and look at the beams, the bits of machinery and the engine in the food court my thoughts turn to the men and women who worked so grindingly hard within these walls.

The Great Western Railway

Founded in 1833 and engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, The Great Western Railway (GWR) was a British Railway company. It linked London with the south-west, the west of England and much of Wales.

The GWR was alone in keeping its identity through the Railways Act 1921. That act amalgamated the GWR with the remaining independent railways in its territory. 1947 saw it merged and nationalised into the Western Region of British Railways.

God’s Wonderful Railway

Many refer to the GWR as God’s Wonderful Railway. While other call it The Great Way Round. Either way, it found fame as the Holiday Line – taking people to resorts in South West England.

Many of the company’s locomotives, built in the workshops in Swindon, were painted in Brunswick green. Though for most of its existence the GWR used a two-tone chocolate and cream livery for its passenger coaches. They painted their Goods wagons red but later changed them to mid-grey.